Ah, Hollywood studio tours. No two are quite the same.
At this point of my Old Hollywood obsession, I’ve been through every single important heavy-hitter studio tour. Some were good, some were dreadful. For my most recent trip to Hollywood, I decided to repeat just one tour–Warner Brothers, because they are currently exhibiting costumes from the most recent DC Comics films (Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad). Other than that, not much on this particular tour has changed. I also decided to trek out a studio I hadn’t previously visited–Universal (but more on that later).
My biggest gripe with studio tours is the way they brush off their historical backgrounds. When I visited Warner Bros. for the first time five years ago, the focus was mainly on Friends, Pretty Little Liars, and The Big Bang Theory. Friends is something I can understand (even though I don’t care two bits about it) but who will remember Pretty Little Liars or The Big Bang Theory in five years time?
That being said, the Warner Bros. tour is one of the better tours for classic movie fans. That should tell you more than enough about what other studio tours are like…
When entering, the first thing you see is the famous water tower. You are then ushered into a waiting area complete with a Starbucks and a place to buy overpriced souvenir tour guides. Next, you are shown a short video narrated by Ellen DeGeneres about how great this tour is, etc. Lastly, you are divided into tour groups (about 8-10 people per group).
The tour guide drives the group in a big golf cart-type thing that you only see in movie studios. Groups then get off at pivotal stops to walk around, see what a practical and a soundstage look like, and visit the Warner Bros. “museum,” amongst other things. Most likely, tours will be made up of annoying parents wearing fanny packs, Bermuda shorts, and Wal-Mart sunglasses saying “WOW!” or “OOOH” at every turn, while their 12 year old daughters freak out over the Pretty Little Liars sets.
You have been warned. Now lets roll on to the tour highlights for classic film fans!
Each soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot features a plaque on its outside wall that highlights all the important movies that were filmed in it. Our tour guide took us to Stage 25, where The Big Bang Theory currently films. More importantly, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dark Victory (1939), High Sierra (1941), Now Voyager (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Casablanca (1943), Giant (1956), and Auntie Mame (1958) were some of the movies that were filmed at this soundstage. Keep your eyes peeled for Soundstage 16, the tallest on the lot. It’s ceiling was raised for the musical numbers in the 1936 musical Cain and Mabel. A Marion Davies vehicle, William Randolph Hearst spared no expense to showcase his mistress in monstrous-sized sets–even if it meant ripping the ceiling off soundstage 16 and raising it. Unlike the Golden Age, when films were almost entirely made utilizing the backlot, movies now go on location and television shows (mostly sitcoms) are what dominate the studio lots today.
Most studios have faux streets lined with facades (buildings that are literally only an outside front. When you turn to the back, you see they are basically wood sheets propped up by wood stilts). Warner Bros. is no different. It’s most famous street is probably Hennesy Street (AKA Tenement Row), modeled after Old New York. It was on these streets where the exteriors for gangster films such as Angels with Dirty Faces, the original Scarface and The Public Enemy were filmed. NOT PICTURED: the exterior set that was Rick’s Cafe Americain in Casablanca. I saw this iconic set the first time I toured the studio five years ago, but this time, our illustrious tour guide neglected to show it to us.
Stage 48: Script to Screen
Stage 48 is a new addition to the studio tour, one that I did not experience when I first visited Warner Bros. Described as an “immersive look” at the movie-making process, it’s a self-guided portion of the tour that highlights the various elements that go into filmmaking (writing, creating a storyboard, costume design, set design, special effects, and even awards season). This was the portion of the tour that I enjoyed the most, mainly because I got the opportunity to hold a real Oscar and I got to see some Old Hollywood props and personal affects of Jack Warner.
What was holding a real Oscar like? Well, it was a lot heavier and larger than I expected. The way today’s celebrities wave the thing around, you would think it was made of Styrofoam. My arms were getting a little shaky while posing for a picture with it! Oscars are also huge, probably about the length of the top of my head to a little past my shoulder. It felt like I was holding the weight of all my great accomplishments, and you can’t help but smile like cheesehead with something like that in your hands!
Now, onto some cool props and items from the office of the formidable Jack Warner:
The two items that interested me the most were the scripts and the phone book. Here is a list of what’s going on in both of these photos in case the pictures are too blurry.
Jack Warner’s scripts:
Dawn Patrol (1930)
The Public Enemy (1931)
Little Caesar (1931)
I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932)
The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Four Brothers (1938)
Sergeant York (1942)
Now, Voyager (1942)
Between Two Worlds (1944)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1953)
Battle Cry (1954)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Ocean’s Eleven (1960)
The Music Man (1962)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Bonnie and Clyde (1962)
You’ll wish you had these people on speed dial:
DeMille, Cecil B.
2000 DeMille Road, Hollywood
Davis, Miss Bette
De Havilland, Olivia
Damita, Miss Lili
803 N. Rodeo Drive
After our visit to the studio, we trekked out to Lake Hollywood Park, where one can find scenic views of the world-famous Hollywood sign without undergoing the ordeal of hiking in the boiling hot heat. As a Brooklyn native, hiking has never been a thing in my life and now, at 23, it’s probably too late to start. I cheat where I can. Lake Hollywood Park is also a hugely popular place for people to walk their cute dogs. So if you like dogs and Hollwyood, it’s the perfect place for you. Standing under the shadow of the sign gave me the shivers in a good way. There’s so much that this sign stood for, and it hits you full force when you’re standing right under it, high up in the hills as the brutal sun beats down upon you. Now if it was only the Hollywoodland sign again!